How will urban transplants change the suburbs?
To the How will urban transplants change the suburbs? extent that these new residents can’t find their beloved urban amenities in the vicinity of their big house with a yard, they’re going to want to create them. They’ll become involved in local community groups, boards, and planning commissions. They’ll encourage the kinds of businesses they like to open up, and they’ll support the kinds of community initiatives that will create the amenities they want.
“The suburbs are going to change,” says McMahon. “You’re going to see more parks and green space in the suburbs, because people are more interested in running and health-inducing activities. … You’re going to see a lot more housing choices.”
Over the past few years, he’s seen dull office parks reimagined as shared workspaces—with housing, dining, and entertainment in the same complex. Zoning changes could allow more housing to go up in the town’s retail and dining centers. Popular businesses, like food halls and bars offering pingpong tables and video games, could move in.
Experts expect different kinds of housing to rise to meet the growing demand. That could add more affordable options, such as townhouses, duplexes, and condo buildings to towns made up of seas of single-family houses with crisp, green lawns.
“Suburbs in the past had no center, had no edge. You didn’t know where the city ended and the countryside began,” says McMahon.
Forward-thinking suburban communities are building city centers, he adds. “They’re trying to create a sense of place.”
Which suburbs will do the best—and the worst?
The towns that become popular destinations for new residents will likely see higher home values, more tax dollars, and as a result, stronger local economies.
Before the pandemic, urbanites leaving the cities sought out walkable towns with smaller homes, shorter commutes, and lots of places to eat and drink, says Alison Bernstein, founder and president of the Suburban Jungle, which offers advice to people seeking a move to the suburbs.
Today, folks also want to feel like they’re on vacation once they switch off their work computer in their home office. That means having things like public golf courses, hiking and cycling trails, or beaches nearby, Bernstein says.
“A lot of people are going fully remote,” says Bernstein, describing their mindset as “if I can live anywhere, I can get a new-construction house for a quarter of what I’m paying—and I can get a better tax situation.”
She’s seeing many younger families move from the East Coast to Florida, with its lower taxes and cost of living. They’re seeking out towns like Boca Raton and Parkland, as well as homes in Denver and Austin, TX.
These younger, urban buyers care more about the areas they are moving into, and the lifestyle they offer, than the homes they’re purchasing.
“The character of the neighborhood is more important than whether you have granite countertops,” says the Urban Land Institute’s McMahon.
The most successful towns will have unique identities and be adept at leveraging their selling points, such as green space, walkability, and farmers markets, says Brett Schwartz. He is the associate director of the National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation, an umbrella group of suburban and small-town regional planning commissions.
They’ll also need friendly residents and stable broadband infrastructure, he says. It will be hard to attract professionals working remotely and new business owners to more rural areas with dial-up internet connections and spotty cellphone signals.
“The small towns and suburban communities that are welcoming … are the communities that are going to be able to thrive,” says Schwartz.
The downsides could be overburdened infrastructure, such as more traffic and congested schools. And while rising home prices will be good for homeowners, locals trying to buy their first home could have a tough time.
Will city slickers stay in the burbs—or return to the big cities?
Once there’s a cure for COVID-19, businesses reopen fully, and white-collar professionals feel safe returning to their offices, at least some of these newly minted suburbanites will likely move back to the cities they loved. But the majority are likely to stay right where they are. After all, selling a home after just a couple of years means risking a loss.
“The longer it takes for the world to go back to normal, the more people will stay where they’ve migrated to,” says realtor.com® Chief Economist Danielle Hale. “But I don’t think they’ll necessarily keep everyone.”
Plus, they’re likely to have begun putting roots down in their new communities, says Jason Hickey, president of Hickey & Associates. The New York City–based business helps companies determine where to expand and if they should relocate.
“They would have made the purchase of their home and enrolled their children into the school system,” he says.
However, some of this will hinge on employers. Even workers required to go back to their offices may not have to commute very far. Many companies are looking into opening smaller, satellite offices in the suburbs where their workers are based, says Hickey.
“Right now many people are 100% remote or very close to 100% remote,” says Hale. “If that changes in the future, more people will want to go back to the city and try to minimize their commute.”